Illusory Follies Andrew Flanagan's Blog

4Mar/092

Updates

So I've been sloppy again and not updating the site.

Without further ado:

Kindle 21) Safari Online was a little bit of a disappointment. I like the selection, the price is reasonable, the searchable formats are wonderful, the ability to cut and paste example code is stellar. So why disappointing? I don't use it. My reading is usually in the evening. I want to be able to sit back in the easy chair and read. My laptop is fairly comfortable but staring at a bright back-lit screen is most certainly not. It's just so much more comfortable to pick up a good old tree-based book and read that. Some of the advantages are still there. If I find something in my book, I can easily cut and paste it from Safari Online but now I'm basically just using Safari as a quick digital copy for all the books that I already have. Bleh... Not worth it. What would make it worth it? If the Kindle-gods worked with O'Reilly to make the entire Safari Online site browseable using your Kindle. I would buy it. I would pay extra. I would make a weekly pilgrimage to the Amazon headquarters. It would be great. But they don't. Furthermore, from what I've heard, on the software side, Kindle doesn't do tables, mono-space fonts, and some other things that really are  almost required in order to read a technical programming/development related book.

StackOverflow2) Work has been busy. C/C++ has been pretty minimal... I'm getting much  more comfortable with memory management issues and have been pleasantly surprised to see that most C++ code that I dig up out there basically looks like mine. I'm still definitely not an expert at decrypting some of the C++ deep magic code that I've seen, but then again, I bet the authors of most of that stuff don't even understand it anymore.  C# has been a mixed bag. I've really enjoyed getting into the "new" features of 3.0 and 3.5 which I had been neglecting until recently. A lot of time spent on Stack Overflow has helped get m e up to speed with Linq and some of the other fun new language features. Generators, extension methods, anonymous functions... it's all sorts of fun.

3) I've been able to watch as the value of various investments that I can't easily cash out of has continued to dwindle. Thankfully, much of what I did have invested in long-term investments I was able to move to much less volatile funds but it's still been rough. On the bright side, the end of the world may be near as the Mayan calendar has it set to 2012. Obama would have the rare privilege of being the final President and (also on the bright side) wouldn't have to worry about his legacy as no one would care how big the national budget is at that point. Also, this would save me a lot of frustration with the whole Social Security thing. One can only hope...

iTaliban4) Wife has been busy with her business. She's continued to embroider like crazy. I've been trying to push her to do more since she's only pregnant with 3 boys under 5 at home. 🙂 She tells me that some day she may expand her business but not now. I think she's in a good situation. On NPR (motto: Unbiased news since 1970 or whenever it was we started getting funded by liberals!)  there was an interview with a business owner in the same general "baby products" market. Her remark was that the "economic crisis" we're experiencing will likely drive a baby boom as people's lives and schedules slow down and more time is spent at home. But hopefully the economy picks up soon so they can afford overpriced baby products for their new brood. I got her a new iPhone so that she can become more of a geek. She really isn't nearly geeky enough and it bothers me. I was interested to see that even the Taliban are getting in on the iPhone action (see picture).

Time precludes further updates.

...Will write more later...

10Jan/092

Health Insurance

Stethescope by LadyheartThat's right folks, you know where to come when you need only the finest steaming fresh folly! Just minutes ago, I saw a new post on the infamous Slashdot. Rather than comment on the site itself and have my comments lost in the masses, I figured I'd comment here and let them get them lost in this corner of the Internet.

So the idea of the article is that cheap and easy genetic testing is here now. This sort of testing can provide massive insight into potential health risks. There's a lot of info that can be mined out of this that can help determine statistical likelihood for certain diseases, genetic defects, etc.

So it makes sense that health insurance companies would be interested in this.

But the line (posted in the Slashdot summary which is why it caught my eye particularly) that gets me is this: "Piecemeal insurance is not viable in a world in which insurers can cherry-pick the most risk-free customers". I find this statement to be fascinating. Not because it's so amazing and revealing of the future but because it's so stupid.

Insurance is a way to manage risk. In all things in life, there's risk. Even the sure things in life (that's right: death and taxes) have spawned insurance products. The idea is that you pay a known amount of money now in order to prevent you from paying an unknown amount later. It's considered equitable (at least when we're talking about regular, private insurance). That is, both the insured (the entity mitigating risk) and the insurer (the entity shouldering the risk) are happy to be involved.

And this makes sense... If I have a large amount of cash, I can charge more than the statistical likelihood of the sum output of cash expected. Statistics can be wrong, but if I leave a large enough gap, I can make money as an insurer.

If I wanted to insure against the possibility that I would die on my next plane ride (I just wrote this out as "my next plane crash"... har!) , I could probably get some sort of policy that would insure me for this. I would pay some amount -- let's say $50 and if, in fact, I died in a plane crash, the insurer would pay out $500,000 to my next-of-kin. This makes sense -- there's an extremely small chance of me dying in a plane crash. Statistics are fairly readily available that show the likelihood of such a crash (they're small -- really Mom -- it's not dangerous to fly!)

This premium charge would be quite a bit higher if you were an experimental test pilot. (By the way, shouldn't they call them "test pilots for experimental aircraft" to avoid adjective confusion? As in, "Hey man, I'm just experimenting with this 'test pilot' thing!").

Hutt, Jabba theSo now the fun begins: people want health insurance. Health insurance has been getting more and more expensive and people in the U.S. are having more and more trouble even being qualified to receive it. This makes sense.

Most of us are fat and unhealthy (see picture). Our idea of a nutritious meal is one that has fried meat AND fried vegetables.

So of course costs are rising. Of course some people are deemed "uninsurable". Who wants to cover someone who has an estimated 90% chance of developing a disease or condition that will cost on average $750,000 to treat? The answer is: someone willing to pay premiums that even at those estimated probabilities will still yield a profit (which is no one).

So insurance always has to be equitable -- it always has to make sense for both parties or else it will not be "viable".

I think the reason the statement was made is this: People don't want insurance, they want to avoid problems. They don't want health insurance, they want health. Insurance therefore is viewed not as a tool of the free market that helps manage and mitigate risk, but a social institution that promotes the general well-being of people.

Yummy! (but expensive)!One could say that the statistical ties between tobacco usage and cancer/death, resulting in increased premiums for folks using tobacco, has put pressure on healthy behavior. Previously, an individual could choose to simply ignore this but would have to suffer the consequences of their actions (in expensive treatment or in simply shuffling off this mortal coil earlier rather than later). Now, when applying for life insurance, you see a dramatic difference between the two rates based on that sole attribute: Do You Smoke? The result (at least might be) a decrease in smoking rates since people drive down the price they pay by changing their lifestyle. This is great! At least as long the statistical likelihood is actually accurate.

OK -- people don't seem to  have a problem with this. But with genetics they do... The reason is that someone genetically predisposed to some potentially expensive condition has no ability to alter their circumstances. Essentially, there is no socially reforming affect upon this person. They simply must pay more to mitigate their risk.

From the market's standpoint, this seems to make good sense: With increased ability to predict risk (at least in theory), there's less waste as premiums be can fine-tuned to more accurate levels. Competing insurance companies can make tiny profit margins on policies with a highly predictable amount of risk (which saves consumers money).

But it doesn't "provide for the general well-being". So, oddly, government provided health care is essentially the same as a private insurance company that knows only statistic: Some people die, some don't. And the government will also up the premiums a little bit more for everyone who can afford to pay them because there are some who can't afford to pay anything at all -- even a low premium.

This is the concept. I suppose it's better than forced sterilization or elimination of Lebensunwertes Leben. That's another way to care for society.

CommunismSo, after all this, it comes down to the purpose of government. Can we provide a system where we can all be happy, from each according to his ability, to each according to his need? How well has that worked...? Should we try the other way to create a perfect, genetically pure society where equality becomes irrelevant?

I think the answer is neither. Life is tough. People die. Babies are born with horrible conditions. Some people are more likely than others to get fat, get cancer, get drunk. Can we ever really change that? Are disabled people the same as non-disabled people because we have a telephone-book-sized stack of laws that give them in equality in all things? Of course not. Life simply isn't fair.

Capitalism isn't the answer either. The thing that makes sense about capitalism is that it works with regards to motivating production. Production and effectiveness is a good thing for any civilization that wishes to remain one. However, capitalism provides no way of making life fair. Let's not try to coerce it and massage it into something it can never be.

So what about those people? The people who are born with horrible conditions or who are likely to develop them? Neither capitalism nor socialism can help them. We as people can. Instead of saying "Someone should do something about this inequality!" be the someone and stop passing the buck. We may not be able to make their lives longer or less painful -- even with unlimited medicine this is probably impossible. But we can make a difference in their life by developing relationships with them and loving them. I think the hardest of hearts out there can understand how much more a real, genuine friendship means to someone than extending a life of misery and depression yet another day.

So that's it! Your economic lesson for the day:  Love people and don't become commies!